Jen Smith on UK Football

‘We’re trying to take this thing to another level,’ Stoops says after Kentucky’s road win

MARK STOOPS

“I was very proud of our team and the way we played tonight to go on the road and play good football across the board. We knew it was gonna take that. Our guys responded with a great week of practice all week and had the toughness and the attitude that we were looking for going on the road and winning a game that we knew was gonna be super competitive. I have great respect for Derek (Mason) and Vanderbilt and what he does and how they play. And I know the way they’re gonna finish the season and the way they’re gonna play. We knew it was gonna be a very tough game. I was just very proud of our guys with the preparation. A little adversity early — we get a turnover and then they get a turnover. We go down seven. The way we responded and played it the entire game, we played efficient on offense, defense and special teams. And each group contributed to the victory, and that makes it very enjoyable as a team.”

On his stat that the team who rushes more wins the game: “I think that didn’t happen last week, but you’re right (laughs). But yeah, it is. It’s whatever it was, it’s been 80 percent in SEC games or slightly over that, and that was the case today. I don’t even know what it was, but when our offense is like that and has that type of mentality starting with our offensive line and of course our backs and our tight ends, when we run the ball like that it opens up a lot of things and that’s best for us. That’s the best recipe to win games and our guys really did a nice job.”

On Benny Snell setting the career rushing touchdown mark: “I didn’t even realize that. I should’ve given him a game ball in there probably (laughs). But I gave it to Jon Hill on Veteran’s Day. I wanted to acknowledge and thank Jon for what he’s done. Also mentioned Jason Cummings, I’ve mentioned him in several press conferences, but those guys are a big part of our team, and very proud of them, very proud to have them with us. So, maybe I’ll give Benny one on Monday.”

On getting those turnovers in the first half: “Yeah, I think it was really important. It was real important to get turnovers. We were frustrated because we hadn’t gotten many in the past two and a half games or whatever it was. So, we stressed it, but I really like the way they played the football. We were competitive all night. I also think it was important the way our offense was running the ball and scoring, and we were playing good run defense kind of making them one dimensional and that helped us as well.”

On if the secondary answered the challenge with those interceptions: “It does. They did. But that’s one week like I always say in here. Nobody’s gonna be running around beating their chest. We have seven days to prove it again against a very good team. I’m proud of them, I told them that. I love the way they’re competing, the way they’re practicing. They have great pride in what they do and don’t want to let the team down. They want to play well and they did that.”

On the relief of getting out to a big lead and keeping it: “I think it was nice. It was nice to see. I was very proud of our offense responding with that, was it eight-minute drive for three. We were going for it there, but I didn’t realize that was even a challenge. I thought it was a timeout, so once it got to fourth-and-two we had to get the field goal there. We were going for it when it was fourth and half a yard. Really, that was a big field goal. I think we had to go for it at that point, but if you get stopped there that’s a pretty big play. The fact we were able to go up 22 with the field goal was big. But that was a big drive by our offense. It took, I want to say eight minutes off the clock when they had a little momentum and got three points. So that was very big. Of course earlier, I forget the sequence, but with Lynn’s kickoff return, that was big as well.”

On big chunk plays: “We’re always hunting that. Eddie and the offensive guys, you all have seen that, I think there’s more to it than just smash mouth. I think when we scheme people and formation people and doing some creative things in the run game. Of course Stephen is making some good decisions and hurt them with his legs again. You put it all together and we’re effective when we can run the ball like that. I think they’re doing a nice job of creating some sets and some big plays as well.”

On Sihiem King: “Sihiem, I was very proud of him. It was nice to get him going. As you could see, he’s a nice change of direction. He’s explosive. Can make some people miss. It was a nice changeup.”

On pass rush helping the secondary: “The pass rush is always a big factor. I think when they had some drives, when they cut it to 20 or whatever it was late, they were still being very patient, nickel and diming and working it down there, getting rid of it quick. But I thought Matt (House) did a nice job early in the game. We had some nice pressures and some zone blitzes. Had some nice changeups that created some sacks and some negative yardage plays. It was big. I think at half they only had 22 plays. When you’re doing that you’re putting a lot of pressure on their defense. Our offense was moving the ball and we were getting some good three-and-outs and turnovers.”

On when he decided to go with Miles Butler at punter: “Seriously thought about it on Tuesday and then made the decision to do it on Thursday.”

On if he knew he could punt that well: “He did a heck of a job. He really did. Very proud of him. He’s a kid that’s been in our program, that’s stepped in, that’s made clutch kicks before for us when Austin was injured. He’ll do anything you ask him to do. I was proud of him. It was great for him to get in there and do so well.”

On if he told him Thursday: “I think I told him on Friday walking off from our walkthrough. He didn’t even kick on Friday but he got the job on Friday (laughter).”

On if he had a smile: “Yeah, he did. He did. Or else he shit himself (laughter). No, I’m teasing because that’s what I love about him. He doesn’t worry about it. He knows he can do it. The staff has great trust in him. He’s a great kid. No, I told him right before, actually I think I told him when we simulate game situations on Friday. The game script. Things that can happen, onside kick, hands team and so on. We were going out to punt I told him to go out with the ones. That’s probably when he realized it.”

On why he changed his mind: “There was a few reasons. I was really going to go into the game trying to save Grant if I could. Grant was willing to do whatever he had to do. Was willing to do that. I talked to him and his family. They were good with it. They wanted to do whatever we had to do to help us win a football game. I just had trust in Miles. I told Eddie I didn’t want to punt backed up. We needed to move the ball. I don’t think we did really all day. He did a great job.”

On Lynn Bowden long kick return: “Lynn’s a player as you can see. He caught a couple of screen passes — had a heck of a catch when we were backed up — that drive was very big. My mind is scattered right now, but when we were backed up and it was second down and they blitzed, they went all-out blitz and Lynn had a big, competitive catch that got us a first down and got us off our own goal line. That was a big play as well.”

On it being a much different outcome here last time and what that says about program development: “Well, we’re definitely a better football team. You saw that today. I don’t care, you look around this league, and again, I have such respect for Derek (Mason) and Vanderbilt. They’ve had a tough schedule. You know you’re going to come in here and you better strap it on. They’re going to be physical and play well and well coached, and we were looking to do the same thing. We made some big plays today. We made some competitive plays on offense, special teams and defensively, so we really did some good things across the board.”

On extension on contract and the stability it means for program: “I’m always appreciative of that. This is a grind. It’s always tough. I’m committed to this place and taking it to another level and that’s what we’re trying to do. And believe me, I want to say, with that, how greatly I appreciate our fan support tonight. Walking out there early and seeing the Big Blue Nation representing like that was just great to see. Our players really loved seeing that. There was a lot of blue out there. We really appreciate our support and thank them for hanging with us. Like I said, greatly appreciate it. Appreciate the administration and what we’re doing. We’re trying to take this thing to another level and we’re going to keep on working at that.”

On coming motivated and ready to play: “It says a lot. I just — as I told you guys Monday, as I said last Saturday in the post-game press conference — that I would have no reason to believe that they wouldn’t respond that way. And they certainly did. We played clean. We played a clean game. They prepared all week, but we came in here with a strong mentality on the road to win this game.”

On Benny Snell and what he means to program: “It’s incredible. Really love the way he’s gone about his work. As we said from day one when we recruited him and when he came in here, the first thing we looked at with him is what you see, that toughness, is that attitude, is a strong, physical runner. But the maturity to be able to do these things. We needed that in that room. We still need it and I appreciate him and what he’s done. He’s a competitive guy and he goes through some ups and some downs. That’s the way it’s going to be when you’re a running back in the SEC. He gets some really tough yards at times and there’s times he wants to get frustrated, but he’s really maturing and grinding his way through. I really appreciate his effort and you’ve got to recognize coach (John) Schlarman and all the offensive coaches and the offensive line and being physical and being able to run the ball like that.”

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